September 7, 2008

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Former UTEP coach Don Haskins dies (Associated Press, September 7, 2008)

EL PASO, Texas — Don Haskins, credited with helping break color barriers in college sports in 1966 when he used five black starters to win a national basketball title for Texas Western, died Sunday. He was 78. [...]

Haskins was an old-time coach who believed in hard work and was known for his gruff demeanor. That attitude was portrayed in the 2006 movie "Glory Road," the Disney film that chronicled Haskins' improbable rise to national fame in the 1966 championship game against Kentucky. The movie, which was preceded by a book of the same title, also sparked renewed interest in Haskins' career.

During his career, Haskins turned down several more lucrative offers, including one with the now-defunct American Basketball Association, to remain at UTEP as one of the lowest paid coaches in the Western Athletic Conference.

Haskins retired in 1999 after 38 seasons at the school. He had a 719-353 record and won seven WAC championships. He took UTEP to 14 NCAA tournaments and to the NIT seven times and briefly worked as an adviser with the Chicago Bulls. [...]

As a coach, Haskins became a star early in his career by leading his Miners to the 1966 NCAA championship game, then making the controversial decision to start five blacks against all-white, heavily favored Kentucky, coached by Adolf Rupp. The Miners won, and shortly after that many schools began recruiting black players.

Haskins said he wasn't trying to make a social statement with his lineup; he was simply starting his best players.

MORE:
The Bear In Winter: His UTEP Miners are only a shadow of the team that wrought a basketball revolution by winning the 1966 NCAA title, yet coach Don Haskins has no recourse but to sit tight through these rocky times (Alexander Wolff, March 1, 1999, Sports Illustrated)

[T]he Bear is in winter. Penalties imposed with two NCAA probations have hamstrung his program virtually through the 1990s. Until this season the Miners hadn't turned in a winning record for three straight years, and twice they failed even to qualify for the Western Athletic Conference tournament. That UTEP was 16-9 as of Sunday and entertaining dreams of the NIT is one more tribute to the Bear's enduring effectiveness -- yet the crowds in the Don Haskins Center have been even thinner this season than last. Little of this is remarked upon beyond El Paso, just as Haskins's 719 wins, with one epic exception, have passed largely unnoticed, and just as his name had to be suggested six times before an exhausted electorate finally waved him into the Hall of Fame two years ago. "He's still the fiercest competitor," says Utah coach Rick Majerus, who hooks up with Haskins in the WAC regularly. "He just doesn't have the players anymore to implement what he wants to do."

Once upon a time he did, famously so. Even Haskins's college coach, Henry Iba, picked Kentucky to beat Texas Western, as UTEP was then known, in the 1966 NCAA championship game. But Haskins knew that a small, quick lineup would give his Miners their best chance against Adolph Rupp's undersized Runts. He started 5'6" Willie Worsley in place of 6'8" Nevil (the Shadow) Shed, then saw his decision vindicated in the game's opening moments. Twice in a row Worsley's 5'10" running mate, Bobby Joe Hill, fleeced a Kentucky guard and sailed in for tone-setting conversions.

Today, to a generation that remembers them, the names of the players who unnerved Kentucky's shooters that night still resonate with a kind of forerunning cool. Not only Hill and Worsley and Shed but also Orsten (Little O) Artis and Willie (Scoops) Cager, David (Big Daddy) Lattin and Harry (Flo) Flournoy became outriders of a new wave, heralding basketball's inevitable evolution from roundball to hoop. Haskins played nobody but blacks in beating an all-white team, and for that he would get 40,000 pieces of hate mail and a dozen death threats. But over time, for presiding over college basketball's Brown v. Board of Education, he would also get credit for changing the game irrevocably.

At his home in Denver, a 38-year-old black postal maintenance worker named Herman Carr watched that game on a small black-and-white TV. Like Haskins, Carr had grown up during the 1940s in Enid, Okla., where the schools and neighborhoods remained segregated but where two kids, one black and one white, could quietly hook up on common ground, the basketball court in Government Springs Park. "I wondered if that was the same Don Haskins I used to play against in the park," Carr says. "He didn't look like I remembered him looking, but by then I didn't look like I'd looked when I was a teenager, either."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 7, 2008 7:58 PM
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